Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Comfort By Coconuts

I remember the land of smiles as this new piece of the world that I connected with for the first time when I was 24. Instantly stunned and aware from the moment I arrived. As if I had just woken up to something more intriguing then the dream I had just left. Enchanted by sweet and spice, a world of new before me.
I vividly recall witnessing fresh coconut milk being made in the market one day in Bangkok. My feet stopped moving suddenly as I caught this display of lustrous, creamy milk. It was as intoxicatingly alluring as that of beautifully drawn bathtub (you know, like that porcelain, claw foot tub with bubbles and rose petals.) In fact, I'm sure the ancient Kings and queens of Asia bathed in hand pressed coconut milk all the time. I would...

The young man, barely in his 30's, quickly passed the fresh coconut meat through the shredder, and then with soft moves, placed the coconut shreds into a large bowl. 2 more large bowls of equal size lay beside them. Fresh, cold water flowed from a pitcher onto the shreds. He massaged them quickly, and the water turned bright white. The same process was continued as the shreds were pulled out by handfuls and squeezed, ringing them out like old laundry, and placed in the next bowl, and then the next. The result was incredible, 3 variations of fresh coconut milk -the cream, the milk, and the water. The best you've ever tried, so rich and sweet.

I had forgotten all about that coconut milk that stopped me in my tracks that day. Like an old sunburn, it had faded away to nothing, not even the mark or tan was left behind that Thailand once made upon my flesh. Just the memory that I had been there before and that its land felt familiar. That was until I showed up again. Instantly, the thick scent in the air of dried fish, frying oil, rotting trash and human body odor, all came rushing in like a drug to my senses. Ah, Bangkok! Pathways on sidewalks too small to walk trough, and street food venders begging for your attention. A place where cold, sweet mango and warm, sticky rice find balance on your plate together, and where chiles, garlic and basil have never danced so harmoniously in your mouth. Thailand is the gateway into the intoxicating and stimulating palate of Southeast Asia.

New food and ingredient inspirations flood in with an urgency to be known….

-Soft-boiled eggs wrapped in a spicy fish paste, fried and served in with cold cucumbers and fried basil leaves.

-Thinly shaved banana blossoms, laced with peanut dressing and strips of ginger and basil.

-Fried rice balls smashed and mixed with baby lettuce, cilantro, ginger, thai chiles, lime juice and the liquid gold of fish sauce. Crispy, spicy and fresh!

In search for a new take on Thai food, and that moment which stands out like the "cream of the coconut" I head out of Bangkok. Escaping the crowds and avoiding the "gringo trail" as much as possible by heading north. Finding comfort in fried bananas and doughnuts with black sesame seeds as the bus rides grew longer and hotter. Hunkering down in Soppong, Mae Hong Son and Chiang Rai. A new Thailand was budding up through the concrete cities I wandered through.

No matter how crowded and touristic Thailand continues to grow with it's western visitors, and no matter how many unfortunate times I was offered HEINZ chile sauce alongside my flavorless pad thai ::sigh:: It still remains a standing rule of traveling that once you scratch a little bit deeper beneath the surface, or at least drive your motorbike an hour outside the center…. you'll discover all that brings you here to begin with. The true cultural wonder and the intrigue of this exotic land of red earth and sweet bananas is still here. A place where they really do smile before you, they really do still create dishes with a fiery spice, and they really do make coconut milk by hand. 

Love from Asia,

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